Sharks captain Joe Thornton is expected to play a potential elimination game in Game 5 of the Western Conference final despite leaving the previous game with an injury.
Thornton was hurt on a shoulder-to-shoulder check by Raffi Torres in the third period of a 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks Sunday that put the Sharks in a 3-1 series hole. He did not return to the game and did not take part in an optional practice yesterday before the team flew to Vancouver.
But coach Todd McLellan said he expects Thornton to play tonight, even if he is not 100 percent. Thornton was not available to the media yesterday but told McLellan he will be ready to play.
“When Joe Thornton comes to you and tells you he’s playing, he’s playing,’’ McLellan said. “That can happen in exhibition season, that can happen at . . . a charity game in the middle of the summer.’’
Thornton, the former Bruins captain, leads the Sharks with 17 points this postseason and has also done a good job defensively when matched up against the opponent’s top line.
In other injury news, Sharks defenseman Jason Demers practiced for the first time this series and said he is ready to play if the coaches give him the chance. Demers missed the first four games with an undisclosed injury.
Sale affected? The owners of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks have ended their exclusive talks with a prospective buyer, but there is no indication that change will affect efforts for the same group of owners to sell the Thrashers.
Michael Gearon Jr. said the owners no longer are granting rights only to John Moores to buy the Hawks. Moores owns about 50 percent of the San Diego Padres. The development has the potential to impact the ownership group’s ongoing talks to sell the Thrashers to True North Sports and Entertainment, which would relocate the team to Winnipeg.
The group, which includes Gearon and Bruce Levenson as lead owners, can again entertain offers for one buyer interested in the Thrashers, Hawks, and operating rights to Philips Arena, where the teams play.
Moores told The Associated Press last night he remains interested in the Hawks.
“The interest continues. I don’t think I can say anything beyond that,’’ Moores said.
The owners have reported no serious interest from a buyer interested in purchasing the package, just as there has been no potential buyer who has made a convincing offer to buy the Thrashers and keep the team in Atlanta.
Barring an unexpected development, that leaves the Thrashers and True North as the most likely partners in a deal.
There were reports from Toronto last week that the Thrashers’ deal with True North could be announced in Winnipeg today. That no longer appears likely.
Atlanta, which lost its first NHL team in 1980 when the Flames moved to Calgary, could become the first city since the league’s 1967 expansion to lose two franchises.